Foreign officials suspected of rights abuses should be deported

WASHINGTON (Somalilandpress) — IN THE SUMMER of 1988, Aziz Deria had left Somalia and was living in the United States when he heard the horrible news: His father, Mohamed, and brother, Mustafa, had apparently been dragged from their home and murdered by Somali soldiers intent on killing members of the Isaaq clan.

Mr. Deria, now a U.S. citizen, and four others who say they were tortured or lost loved ones to alleged abuses by Somali forces took their grievances to a U.S. court. Relying on the Torture Victim Protection Act, they filed a civil suit against Mohamed Ali Samantar, former Somali defense and prime minister and the man they believe is responsible for the bloodshed.

Mr. Samantar is a permanent legal resident who now lives in Northern Virginia. He argues that the case should be dismissed and points to a U.S. law that, with a few exceptions, shields foreign governments from such lawsuits. The Supreme Court heard the case on Wednesday.

Mr. Deria and the other plaintiffs share heartbreaking stories, but they should not be allowed to go forward with their suit. As a matter of policy, such suits risk intrusions on foreign relations prerogatives of the executive; they also undermine the U.S. ability to protect its officials from litigation overseas.
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As a matter of law, the U.S. government has long argued — and courts have recognized — that foreign officials, as well as foreign states, could not be subject to civil suits in the United States. Filing suit against an individual acting in his official capacity, courts reasoned, was the equivalent of filing suit against the state itself. The 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which protects a “foreign state,” including any state “agency or instrumentality,” should be read as incorporating these principles.

The Torture Victim Protection Act — passed years after the foreign immunities law — makes no mention of stripping accused officials of protection against suit. This omission is telling: When Congress decided that victims should be able to sue state-sponsors of terrorism, by contrast, it amended the FSIA and explicitly stripped alleged perpetrators of immunity.

Mr. Deria and the other plaintiffs argue that because Mr. Samantar is no longer in office, he should not benefit from FSIA’s protections. But it would be meaningless to protect an individual for official acts while he is in office only to make him legally vulnerable once he returns to the private sector.

Officials who engage in these abuses must be held accountable, but allowing victims to sue individuals for damages is not the answer. The Somali plaintiffs say it is deeply distressing to know that Mr. Samantar is living comfortably in the United States. The Obama administration should determine whether Mr. Samantar had a hand in the alleged abuses; if he did, his legal right to live in the United States should be rescinded and he should be deported.

Source: The Washington Post, 8 March 2010

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